Provost Schauer Presents at U.S. Department of Education College Affordability Forum

On November 6, 2013, Marymount California University took part in an open forum on the Obama Administration’s College Affordability Initiative. Hosted by California State University Dominguez Hills and facilitated by the Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter and other U.S. Department of Education officials, the forum was an opportunity to provide feedback on President Obama’s higher education plan, which was announced in August. The U.S. Department of Education is seeking input on the three components of the initiative: paying for performance; promoting innovation and competition; and ensuring that student debt remains affordable, as well as the development of a college ratings system. Marymount California University Provost Dr. Ariane Schauer presented these notes during the forum:

Dr. Ariane Schauer, Provost, Marymount California University

We commend the administration for recognizing the important role of higher education and for engaging the conversation on access, quality, value, continued relevance and impact. We appreciate the call to communicate how we as a sector and as individual institutions add value.

We recognize that higher education is…
I- a private good (in that it advances individual earning power)
II- a public good (in that it develops the labor force and the citizenry)
III- and a key industry (an American university degree is a much sought-after global commodity)

The structure of the global economy has been changing, and higher education is called on to adapt and prepare students, not for one career, but many. Private nonprofit colleges and universities are helping address these needs.
- We serve a great diversity of students, including first generation students.
- We are nimble and can offer multiple entry points and a range of programs and certificate courses to respond to labor force needs.
- We complement classroom learning with mentored practical applied learning.
- And we consider the cumulative impact of the degree, where intentional progression of learning prepares students for effective innovation, service and leadership.

Meeting these many needs and serving these diverse students will require a diversity of programs, approaches, modalities, and entry points.

So … Regarding a college rating system:
1. We favor a sufficiently broad array of measures to allow schools to choose from to showcase what they do best and how they meet student needs.
2. We recommend a realistic implementation timeline.

The risk lies in reducing to a standard metric and a cookie cutter approach that would in the end reduce choices and access and innovation. A rating system built around too few factors may over time lead to greater standardization and less innovation.
  • For example, the emphasis on earnings in the President’s outline suggests that institutions producing graduates that go into lucrative fields may be regarded as more valuable than those who graduate into public service, the ministry, or the arts.
  • Furthermore, a job within 6 months of graduation is an insufficient measure of the degree’s contribution to a lifetime of adaptability and entrepreneurship, and may serve as a better indicator of the macroeconomic cycle than of an individual college’s value added.
  •  We recognize that it is more difficult to serve students swirling across institutions. Adding credits does not necessarily add up to a cumulative progression and impact. Measures should take into account inbound and outbound transfer and follow up degree completion and success across institutions.
  • An institution offering an education that demands high faculty-student interaction will likely have higher overhead costs but may offer meaningful preparation in many fields, such as internship feedback, media, entrepreneurship, leadership, self-assessment and professional direction.
  • A student is most likely to succeed at a college which is the best “fit” for him or her. We would not want to see our federal government discourage attendance at a best-fit institution by offering a student more money to go elsewhere.
  •  In conclusion, one of the great strengths of American higher education is the diversity of institutional choices we offer.
We are pleased that the President has indicated he does not wish to develop this proposal in a vacuum and will reach out to the higher education community in further defining the initiative.

American higher education is one of our key industries, and a key area of comparative advantage for us. Thank you for working with us to highlight our strengths and continued relevance.
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